Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Global Gypsies and Their Caravans

Em told me something strange a few days ago. Won't go into the utterly tortuous and convoluted channel of communication through which he received this information, but the gist of it is - A few years ago, we used to have a few Indian students living in the apartment complex where I used to live till recently. They were all on fairly good terms with me, friendly and pleasant, and at times we hung out together, although not very often.

But it seems that I was being excluded from their frequent outings, and at least one of them had an active dislike for me. Reasons - apparently I deny my Indian roots, fake a British accent, and avoid socializing with other Indians.

I won't go into all the different reasons why accusing me of "denying my roots" is patently absurd (and if you insist, then I'd ask you to either go read Bankim Rachnabali or Andha Yug for the purposes of discussion, take your pick). But I can't resist pointing out that it's incredibly amusing to be called a "roots denier" by my ex-neighbour who is a diplobrat, and barely spent two years of her life in India.

And now for the matter of the accent. For the record, I don't have a British accent (whatever that's supposed to be - I guess they mean a certain English accent). I've never lived in England, and have spent a sum total of 30 hours in that country, either in transit or transferring from one airport to another. I'm not Anglophillic, though there are certain things I like about the nation (I'm more of a Persophile and Philhellene than Anglophile).

What I do have is a generic Bong-Indian public school-worked for Oxbridge educated bosses for three years accent. And watched BBC and ITV shows when Doordarshan was the only game in town accent. Have things changed so suddenly and dramatically in India that no one remembers a time when we were encouraged to cultivate a slight English upper class accent? Yes it was a very class-ridden thing, and often condescending, but it was something that many of us aspired to.

But in any case, I do not in any way sound like someone who's lived in England, and to date, no English person has ever asked me if I've spent time in England. However, I do get asked by a lot of Americans if I've lived in England, if I have any English roots, or if I went to a British school in India. I guess they don't really distinguish between an actual English accent, and one that only sounds similar (very mildly). I'm told I sound very different from a lot of other Indians they know, and I'm at pains to explain that this might be due to a regional variation or a different background, or simply a generation thing, because a lot of younger Indians sound more American.

I can imagine someone who's not Indian being ignorant of all the different variations of Indian English, but it's strange to have an Indian accuse me of faking an accent, because I sound different from whatever their peculiar idea of an "Indian accent" is.

Anyway, the last couple of days made me feel even more how utterly petty and ridiculous such concerns were, as I listened to and read about the incredible travel adventures of friends who seem to be traversing all parts of the globe.

Two days ago, we had lunch with a friend who narrated her experiences of working for a month with a development project in a village in Ghana, travelling to Senegal to meet a cousin in a plane where the lights went out midflight, then quickly started losing altitude and the pilot made emergency manoeuvres to finally land it safely.

During her time in Senegal, she narrowly missed being injured in a street explosion, and then later in the week, went off to the jungle to follow the footprints of giraffe families. Her cousin, an American man, was an artist who was married to a French woman working for the UN. They had spent their entire adult lives in Africa, moving from country to country.

Yesterday, we had lunch with another friend, a Turkish boy with a Russian wife whom he had met in Japan (and married in Las Vegas, yes it really is that incredulous). He told us about how he and his wife had gone to Indonesia to work on a research project and spent a month travelling from village to village in Java, collecting data. Apparently the Javanese can give stiff competition to the American South with their love of fried chicken, it can be found in every street corner.

And then, you can feast your eyes on the absolutely gorgeous pictures by my friend Alex, who took a month off to travel through South-east Asia, visiting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Alas, his travelogue is in German, but hopefully a good online translator will be found. Especially his one photograph of Luang Prabang is absolutely breathtaking. I'd never been very interested in Laos, but now, my curiosity is piqued.

Waaaaaaa, everyone gets to travel but me! So not fair. Even my boyfriend took off for a ten day trip to Hong Kong today to see his childhood friend who works there now. And he doesn't even like dimsum! Why, why?

In fact, this is the last detailed blog post you'd see from me in a while, because the next month or so will be crazy. In fact, I should not be writing this at all, but finishing off my goddamn dissertation which is long overdue. Yes, the blog will be in hiatus, but I'll peek into comment boxes here and there.

And before I forget, I'll be a good Bong girl and wish everyone my best wishes for Durga Puja. Shobaike Sharodiyo Shubhechchha!!


Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

to you too. have fun!

2:14 AM  
Blogger Bidi-K said...

best of luck for the dissertation. aar pujo greetings to you too!

4:14 AM  
Blogger Arthur Quiller Couch said...

Perhaps 'incredible' rather than 'incredulous'.
Comment by an acquaintance when he was NOT stoned - chicks sound so fucking sexy with that uppah class accent, I always think they give good head.
(Very 'Notting Hill'.)

5:58 AM  
Blogger Kele Panchu said...

Happy pujo to you too. Don't worry Ma Durga will bless you irrespective of the accent you pray her with. :)

Good luck with your dissertation. You're entitled to desert us for a while.

7:11 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

hahaha....i loved your post!! partly because i can totally identify with it...
"apparently I deny my Indian roots, fake a British accent, and avoid socializing with other Indians"....except for the Brit accent I have been accused of the rest...which is just total bunk.

Oh and Ive hear wonderful stuff about Laos from a friend who was there recently...I plan to visit next year....this december is Italy..

Also, best for your dissertation and pujo greetings!

8:41 AM  
Blogger Szerelem said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Rimi said...


And now to work, to work :-)

4:24 PM  
Blogger hedonistic hobo said...

oh that's a very desi crowd thing to do. i don't quite know how to define my roots even in india i'm a misfit being half-kashmiri and half-punjabi, brought up in post-liberalization delhi amongst a very heterogeneous mix of people. plus how do we define indian roots and indian culture? oh dear this post reminded me of people i thought i'd forgotten and has now given me a headache.

3:49 AM  
Blogger IndCoup said...

Hey, what you think you're up to, leaving snide comments on my blog?

As for "typical" Brits, I have to say that Indian Brits are probably the most "British" of all! So damn conservative! Well they are in the posh areas of SW London.


8:00 PM  
Blogger jerry said...

Trust me, I'll say this at the might of soundin cliched, that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, what you sound like or what you look like. Truly. I know in this day-and-age its quite a matter of concern, just stick in your shoes. Just don't care a damn! Roots? Who talks like that?

11:17 AM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

TR - Thanks, no fun for a month :(

Bidi - Thanks so much, and greetings to you too.

Arthur - No, no incredulous is fine as well, a lot of people do find it hard to believe. What's the relation between giving head and speaking in a certain way?

Panchu-da - thanks! As our current Governator loves to say - I'll be baack

Szerelem - thanks! Let's commiserate over our alleged un-Indian-ness :). And oh, we should all go to Laos, before the package tours descend, now that Thailand's become a bit dodgy.

Rimi - thanks!

Hedonistic - I'm so sorry! Yes, these obnoxious pseudo-patriots are really a pain.

Indcoup - Just adding a bit of native snark to the mix :)

Jerry - Tons of people are overly obsessed with roots. Especially those who know zilch about their own.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, tell your ex-friends to chill. We all have multiple identities now. I'm a Welsh Buddhist living in Bangladesh who speaks Chinese and Turkish. My accent is probably a mishmash of all of those. Bring it on - let's explore and not be confined to narrow pigeon-holes.

PS Hope you get to HK one day - the dimsum are wicked! Morris The Pen

4:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accent or not is one thing, name another. U have a curious name for a bong.
I have been living in Bengal for the past year and half and have a few bong friends. There are many Mitras but not any 'Mikra'. I hope it is not a mistake.
best wises to you too for durga pooja. And for ur dissertation too.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Brazen Head said...

Goo luck writing. And when writing, think of everything else you could be doing if you were not stuck in front of the laptop with all those sheets of paper around you:-)

5:21 AM  
Blogger velvetgunther said...

Hey, how've you been? And where are you now?

2:30 AM  
Blogger said...

Good luck with your thesis! watched "looking for comedy in the Muslim world" yesterday and felt reeeeeally homesick after hearing the Indian english. I get a lot of the same comments too, which is sad, because I like nothing better than feeding chorchori to fellow desis, except the "you can cook bangla food!!!" comments make me want hit them with a haata. :) but the husband man calls me a ghaatan, which makes up! ask your hellenic to call you pechi and you will feel better...

3:43 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Hello Swati!
Whoops, I was mentionend on your blog :-) Just thought I would check by again and read one of your always interesting and very very well-written posts (English accent or not - you definitely master the English language in a way that doesn't cease to amaze me) and then, there is me in there. Glad you like my pictures - there is about 700 more of them :-) Will email longer soon, also got loads to do at the moment!
Take care,

2:49 AM  
Blogger jhantu said...

writing ur dissertation-- already!!! isnt that against the piled higher and deeper spirit??

7:35 AM  
Anonymous hedonistic hobo said...

where have you disappeared to now?

12:26 PM  
Blogger Azahar Machwe said...

maybe it was jealousy? Jealous comments should not trigger a response :)

10:18 AM  
Blogger Brazen Head said...

hey time to write another one... PhD or no PhD:-)

2:13 AM  
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3:30 PM  

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